What do gig workers really want?

Last Updated Oct 20, 2017 10:12 AM EDT

In an economy made up more and more of workers who are freelance, contingent or "businesses of one," employers might be wondering how to get the best work from their workforce of self-directed, totally liberated contractors.

One crowdsourcing platform decided to ask their crowd that question. BlogMutt, a gig platform that matches writers with clients who need blogs, ran a questionnaire asking people why they used the service. They were asked to rank motivators, including pay, personal development, professional growth and the sense of community on the site. 

Then, the company matched the responses with each writer's quality, which they scored using factors like how frequently clients requested a specific writer and how much of a writer's work was used.

BlogMutt shared the results with CBS MoneyWatch exclusively. They were surprising, said CEO Steve Pockross.

Among the lowest 10 percent of writers, just over two-thirds -- 69 percent -- said pay was the most important reason they used the platform. Among the highest-rated decile, 89 percent ranked pay highest.

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"Of course pay is motivating, but we were surprised at the difference between the highest quality workers and the lowest," he told CBS MoneyWatch.

The questionnaire also asked writers what their working arrangements were. Some worked only for BlogMutt and did that job full-time. Some were professional writers with a number of clients. And others had full-time jobs that were unrelated and used blogging for extra cash. (A full list of options appears below the chart.)

Writers who said they considered BlogMutt their full-time job and did work for no other online platform, had the highest average score, Pockross noted.

"The top writers think of this as a career, they have pride, they have craft and they try to hone it," he said.

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Respondents chose one of the following options, reproduced here in the order they appear on the chart, left to right:

I have a part-time job (NOT writing) and use BlogMutt for supplemental income. // I have a full-time job (NOT writing) and use BlogMutt for supplemental income. // BlogMutt is my only income source, but I only write part-time (e.g. stay-at-home mom) // I am a full-time writer and I consistently write for other online freelance platforms. // I am a full-time writer, but BlogMutt is the only online-platform for which I write consistently. // I am a full-time writer, but BlogMutt is the only online-platform for which I write consistently.

BlogMutt compensates writers per post, with the pay ranging from $8 to $72 apiece depending on length and complexity, said Scott Yates, who founded the platform six years ago and was its CEO until last year. "The money isn't great," he told MoneyWatch, but even so, "we do have people making a full-time living off it." 

He added that he was exploring giving bloggers a stake in the company, so that if it were ever acquired, they would receive a payout. 

Of course, this is just one study, and to draw wide-ranging conclusions about the workplace would require more research. From this particular data, it's impossible to say whether the top writers are so good because they're motivated by money or because some other factor makes a person a good writer and attentive to what she's paid. 

But the concept that good work demands commensurate pay is worth pausing over. Eight years into an expanding recovery, many parts of the economy are concerned about potential labor shortages, and corporations increasingly worry about how to attract, retain and motivate talent. But most workers have barely seen a raise.